What’s better than a good contemporary fiction read in the dead of winter, to bring some warmth into your life? So I was very excited to get to read Husband Material and participate in this blog tour for Harlequin (THANK YOU for gifting me this ARC). This book releases on 12/30, and I definitely recommend it. See below for the synopsis, my review, and a special excerpt straight from the book so you can get a taste of it yourself.
Told in Emily Belden’s signature edgy voice, a novel about a young widow’s discovery of her late husband’s secret and her journey toward hope and second-chance love.
Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.
Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.
But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.
**Note: I got this book as an advanced reading copy from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for sharing a fair, honest review. The opinions expressed are definitely my own!
What I liked:
- I really liked Charlotte and thought the portrayal of her attempts to move on from the death of her husband were so authentic and relatable. I can’t imagine losing my loved one, but if I did, I could see that retreating into data and facts to try to protect myself would be a very likely coping strategy for me, just like it was for Charlotte. I was surprised by how moved and empathetic I felt for all she was going through, and I thought her sense of humor was utter perfection.
- I also really liked Brian, the love interest. I thought the way he tiptoes around Charlotte, and his motives for doing the things he does, were also incredibly relatable and also totally adorable. I actually wished we got to know more about him, like maybe some chapters from his perspective. That said, I think it was actually perfect the way it is written, all from Charlotte’s perspective, given that there are a couple of plot surprises that work best sticking to her perspective only. I just thought Brian was funny and would’ve loved a view into his brain.
- The commentary on life, work, friendship, and dating as a young adult in LA was totally spot-on and hilarious. I loved the banter, the ridiculous things Charlotte has to deal with like totally out-there boutique owners, snarky interns at work, and dates who wanted sex contracts. I had many good laughs!
What didn’t work so well:
- A few of the characters were a little too simplistic for my taste. For example, Decker’s mom felt like a caricature of the rich and entitled parent. And even though we get to see a glimpse of more complexity, it is all a little too “neat” and plot-serving for my taste. I just wasn’t sure I could quite believe a person would act the way she did at various point throughout the story. But this is a minor issue, and one I’m willing to overlook because of how much I liked the rest.
- I kinda wanted more on the romance front.i think because it is a story about a widow who is finally laying her loved one to rest, metaphorically speaking, this may not have been possible without losing authenticity. But just, Charlotte and Brian are so darn cute, and I wanted a little moooooore of it.
- The pacing was a little off, and felt like it was slooooooooow and then really fast at the end. I know there was a lot to set up and a fair amount of internal turmoil and growth to go through, but it still just didn’t feel totally balanced to me.
Those are all my thoughts on this one. I loved the depth of the characters, some of the hilarious situations and commentary on what it’s like to be a young adult in LA. I found myself cracking up (cackling) a few times and tearing up a few times, and I love any book that can do both for me. Check out the excerpt below, and if thoughtful contemporary fiction is your thing, go pick this one up on Dec 30.
Well, that’s a first.
And I’m not talking about the fact that I brought a date to a wedding I’m pretty sure didn’t warrant me a plus-one. I’m talking about grabbing a wedding card that just so happened to say “Congrats, Mr. & Mr.” on my way to celebrate the nuptials of the most iconic heterosexual couple since George and Amal. This—and a king-sized KitKat bar from the checkout lane—is what I get for rushing through the greeting card aisle in Target while my Uber driver waited in the loading zone with his flashers on.
It’s Monica and Danny’s big day. She’s my coworker, whose gorgeous face is constantly lining the glossy pages of Luxe LA magazine. Not only because she’s one of the leading ladies at Forbes’s new favorite company, The Influencer Firm, but because this socialite-turned-CEO is now married to Daniel Jones—head coach of the LA Galaxy, Los Angeles’s professional soccer team. If you’re thinking he must look like a derivative of an American David Beckham, you’re basically there. Let’s just hope their sense of humor is as good as their looks when they see the card I accidentally picked out.
Before I place it on the gift table, I stuff the envelope with a crisp hundred-dollar bill fresh from the ATM. Side note: I think wedding registries are bullshit. Everybody wants an ice cream maker until you have one and never use it, which is why I spring for cold, hard cash instead. I grab a black Sharpie marker from the guest book table, pop the cap off, and attempt to squeeze in a nondescript s after the second “Mr.,” hoping my makeshift, hand-drawn serif font letter doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. I blow on the fresh ink, then hold the pseudo Pinterest-fail an arm’s length away. That’ll do, I think to myself.
I lift a glass of red wine from a caterer’s tray as if we choreographed the move and check the time on my Apple Watch, which arguably isn’t the most fashionable accessory when dressing for a chic summer wedding. But aside from the fact that it doesn’t quite match my strapless pale yellow cocktail dress, it serves a much greater purpose for me. It keeps my data front and center, right where I want it, not on my phone buried somewhere deep in my purse. Bonus: the band, smack-dab on the middle of my wrist, also covers a tattoo I’ve been meaning to have lasered off.
Other than telling me the time, 7:30 p.m., it also serves up my most recent Tinder notifications. I’ve gotten four new matches since this morning, which isn’t bad for a) a Saturday, since most people do their Tindering while zoning out at work or bored in bed at night; and b) a pushing-thirty New York native whose most recent relationship was the love-hate one with a stubborn last ten pounds. That’s me, by the way. Charlotte Rosen.
Though present and accounted for now, the battle of Tide pen vs. toothpaste stain went on for longer than I intended back at my apartment, causing me to arrive about half an hour late to the cocktail hour. Which means I for sure missed Monica and Dan’s ceremony in its entirety. I, of all people, know that’s rude. I’m someone who is hypersensitive to people’s arrival tendencies (well, to all measurable tendencies, to be honest; more on that later). But I’m sort of glad I missed the I Dos, as there is still something about witnessing the exchange of vows that makes me a little squeamish. I got married five years ago and, well, I’m not married anymore—let’s put it that way.
The good news is that with time, I can feel it’s definitely getting easier to come to things like this. To believe that the couple really will stay together through it all. To believe that there is such a thing as “the one”—even if it may actually be “the other” that I’m looking for this next go-round.
Late as I may be to the wedding party, there are some perks to my delayed arrival. Namely, the line at the bar has died down enough for me to trade up this mediocre red wine for a decent gin and tonic. Another perk? Several fresh platters of bacon-wrapped dates have just descended like UFOs onto the main floor of the venue, which happens to be a barn from the 1800s. Except this is Los Angeles, and there are no barns from the 1800s. So instead, every creaky floorboard, every corroded piece of siding, and every decrepit roof shingle has been sourced from deep in the countryside of southwest Iowa to create the sense that guests are surrounded by rolling fields, fragrant orchard blossoms, and fruiting trees. The reality being that just outside the wooden walls of the coveted, three-year-long-wait-list Oak Mill Barn stands honking, gridlocked traffic on the 405 and an accompanying smog alert.
As I continue to wait for my impromptu wedding date, Chad, to come back from the bathroom, I robotically swipe left on the first three guys who pop up on Bumble, another dating app I’m on, then finally decide to message a guy who looks like a bright-eyed Jason Bateman (you know, pre-Ozark) and is a stockbroker, according to his profile. We end up matching and he asks me for drinks. I vaguely accept. Welcome to dating in LA.
I’ve conducted some research that has shown that after the age of thirty, it becomes exponentially harder to find your future husband. What number constitutes exponentially? I’m not sure yet, but I’m working on narrowing in on that because generalities don’t really cut it for me. Thinking through things logically like this centers me, calms me, and resets me—no matter what life throws my way. All that’s to say, I’m officially in my last good year of dating (and my last year of not having to include a night serum in my skin care regimen), and I’m determined not to wind up with my dog, my roommate, and a few low-maintenance houseplants as my sole life partners.
“Sorry that took so long,” says Chad, returning from the men’s room twenty minutes after leaving. “Did you know the bathroom at this place is an actual outhouse? Thank god it was leg day at the gym—I had to squat over the pot. My quads are burning nice now.”
Confession. I didn’t just bring a date to the wedding, I brought a blind date.
No worries, though. Monica knows how serious I am about the path to Mr. Right and supports the fact that I go on my fair share of dates to get me there quicker. Plus, he isn’t a total stranger; she knows him—or, she met him, rather. He attended her work event last week at the LA County Museum of Art and is supposedly this cute, single real estate something or other. Of course he tried to hit on her and, unlike most beautiful people in Los Angeles, Monica actually copped to being in a committed relationship with Danny. (Who doesn’t like to brag they’re marrying Mr. Galaxy himself?) So she did the next best thing and gave him her single coworker’s Instagram handle and told him to slide into my DMs. It’s a bold move on her part, but I appreciate her quick thinking and commitment to my cause, Operation: Reclassify My Marital Status.
Since Chad first messaged me a week ago, I’ve done my homework on him. And I’m not talking about just your basic cyber stalking. I’m talking about procuring and sifting through real, bona fide data. It’s essentially a version of what I’m paid to do for a living—track down all the “influencers,” people with a lot of fans and followers on the internet, and match them to events we plan for our clients so they can post on social media and boost our clients’ profiles.
Some may think my side-project software, the one that computes how much of a match I am with someone, is a bit…much, but I don’t see it that way at all. I’m on the hunt for a man who is a true match for me—one who won’t just up and leave in the blink of an eye. I left things up to fate once and look how that turned out. I’ll be damned if I do it that way again.
While I studied up on Chad, I conducted a hefty “image search,” yielding about a hundred photos of him that have been uploaded across a variety of social platforms over the years. In real life, I’m pleased to say he checks out. Chad is over six feet tall, tanned, and toned, with coiffed Zac Efron hair that’s on the verge of being described as “a bit extra.” From the shoulders up, he’s an emoji. A walking, talking emoji. But as I step back and admire him in his expertly tailored suit, he looks like a contestant on The Bachelor. In retrospect, Chad is just the right amount of good-looking to complement my physical appearance, which can be described as a made-for-TV version of an otherwise good-looking actress.
“Something to drink, sir?” one of the caterers asks Chad.
“Yes. A spicy margarita. Unless… Wait. Do you make the margarita mix yourselves? Or is it, like, that sugary store-bought crap?”
Eek. I had forgotten my discovery that Chad is a bit of a…wellness guru. I guess so is everyone in LA, but I can’t help but be taken aback when I hear that there are people who actually care about the scientific makeup of margarita mix.
“Fuck it. Too many calories either way,” Chad announces before giving the waitress a chance to answer his question. “I’ll just take a whiskey.”
“Splash of Coke?”
“God, no. So many empty calories.”
With his drink order in, Chad rolls his neck around and pops bones I never knew existed. Then, one by one, the joints in his fingers. The sound makes me a bit queasy but I’m trying to focus on the positive, like his beautiful hazel eyes and the fact that cherry tomatoes and mini mozzarella balls with an injection of balsamic vinegar are the latest and greatest munchie to hit the floor.
Chad turns to me with a smile, his palm connecting with the small of my back. “Should we find our seats? What table are we at?”
Good question, I think to myself. I’m at table six. Chad is…on a fold-up chair we will have to ask a caterer to squeeze between me and Monica’s great-aunt Sally? I kind of forgot to mention to him that I didn’t really get an official okay to bring him tonight.
“Table six,” I say pleasantly with a smile.
“Six is my lucky number. Well, that, and nine, if you know what I mean,” Chad says with a wink accompanied by an actual thumbs-up.
The waitress comes back with his whiskey neat, and he proposes we clink our glasses in a toast to meeting up as we make our way to the table. Still not over the lingering effects of his immature, pervy sixty-nine joke, I reluctantly concede to do the cheers with the perpetual high-schooler.
“So, what did you think of Monica’s event?” I say to break the ice as we take our seats at the luckily empty round table.
“Well, I don’t really know what she does for a living, but she is fine as hell. I mean, that’s why I hit on her last week at the LACMA. Sure, I saw the ring on her finger, but couldn’t resist saying hi to a goddess like her. My god, that woman is something else.”
I nod in agreement. Partly because, yes, Monica Hoang needs her own beauty column in Marie Claire, stat. And partly because I’m too shocked by his crass demeanor to really do or say anything else. Did I say Chad reminded me of a contestant on The Bachelor? I think I meant he reminds me of a guy who gets sent home on night one of The Bachelor.
“She said you’re a real estate…attorney, was it?” I awkwardly segue. “What’s your favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles?”
It sounds like I’m interviewing him for a job, which in a way, I am. But had I known the conversation was going to be like forcefully wringing out a damp rag, just hoping to squeeze out something semidecent, I would have never invited him to join me at the wedding. In fact, I likely wouldn’t have gone through with a date, of any kind, at all. Conversation skills rank high on my list of preferred qualities in a mate. Looks like he’s the exception to the rule that attorneys are good linguists, because my app sure as shit didn’t predict this fail.
So how does my software work, then? Well, it’s all about compatibility. My algorithm is programmed to know what I like and what I’m looking for in the long term. So to see if a guy is a match, I comb through his online profiles, enter the facts I find out about him, and generate a report that indicates how likely he is to be my future husband or how likely we would be to get a divorce, for example. One of the most helpful stats is how likely we are to go on a second date. I’ve determined that anyone scoring above 70 percent means that chances are good we’d go out again. And, well, a second date is the first step to marriage. You get the point. Anyone below a 70, I ignore and move on. Chad pulled a 74, which is a solid C if you’re using a high school grading system. Not stellar, but certainly passable with room for improvement.
As it’s turning out, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“Huh? I’m not in real estate,” he says with a confused look on his face.
“Oh, Monica said you were an attorney at Laird & Hutchinson?”
“Well, yes, that’s the name of our firm. The Laird side is real estate. But they acquired Hutchinson a couple years ago, and that’s the side of the practice I work on.”
“What kind of law is Hutchinson?”
“We’re the ‘Life’s too short, get a divorce!’ guys. You’ve probably seen a few of our company’s billboards.”
Chad slides his business card my way, and as soon as I see the logo, I picture those billboards slathered all over the bus stop benches down Laurel Canyon Drive and feel physically ill. Not only because he’s in the business of making divorce seem cheeky, but also because I’m wondering what other things I might have missed or gotten wrong about Chad.
“Wait. So have you ever been divorced?” The question pops off my tongue involuntarily. As soon as the words come out, I remember he reserves the right to ask me the same question in return and immediately regret posing it. I’m not ready to explain the demise of my first marriage.
“Me? Nah. Never married.”
Luckily, a server reappears to take our dinner order. But let it be known that if Chad had asked, I would have explained that I didn’t give up on my life partner because I was frustrated he failed to load a dishwasher in any sort of methodical way. I didn’t just get bored and say “screw it,” chalking the whole thing up as just a starter marriage (google it, this is a thing now). In fact, if anyone abruptly left anyone, he abandoned me out of nowhere.
“Would you like the chicken and veggies or the short rib and scalloped potatoes?” the caterer asks me.
“Short rib and potatoes,” I say, a game-time decision made entirely by my growling stomach.
At that, Chad looks at me like I rolled into the Vatican wearing a tube top. “You sure about that, Char? There are so many hidden carbs in potatoes,” he whispers with a hint of disgust.
First off, Char is reserved for people with a little more tenure in my life, thankyouverymuch. And secondly—
“Yes, I’m sure. An extra scoop of potatoes if possible,” I say, loud enough for our waitress, who jots down the special instruction.
“Chicken for me. Extra veggies,” my 74 percent match requests.
There it is. His wellness obsession flaring up again. I’m racking my brain for what to say next to a guy who screams “dead end” to me.
–Excerpted from Husband Material by Emily Belden, Copyright © 2019 by Emily Belden. Published by Graydon House Books.
About the Author
EMILY BELDEN is a journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is the author of the novel Hot Mess and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. She lives in Chicago. Visit her website at http://www.emilybelden.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @emilybelden.